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Complex, ominous, seductive couture: Gaultier's still at the top of his game

A model wears a creation for the Jean Paul Gaultier Fall-Winter 2011-2012 Haute Couture fashion collection presented in Paris, Wednesday, July 6, 2011.

Jacques Brinon/Jacques Brinon/AP

Style reporter Amy Verner is covering the major shows at Paris Couture Fashion Week this week. Follow her on Twitter @amyverner.

JEAN PAUL GAULTIER

The Designer

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It's been three weeks since the Montreal Museum of Fine Art unveiled its sweeping exhibition on Jean Paul Gaultier, a designer who made the Breton stripe shirt his signature and the l'enfant terrible persona his modus operandi. He kept insisting to journalists that it's not to be seen as a retrospective and his Fall 2012 couture collection confirms why: His creative tank is still full of ideas.

The Show

There were early indications of a ballet theme (seat groupings named after choreographers, background music and voices designed to sound like a warm-up). But this just proved to be a starting point rather than a matinee of models en pointe. Milla Jovovich, whose white bandage outfit in the film The Fifth Element was designed by Gaultier (as were all the other costumes), arrived at the show with her three-year-old daughter. Gaultier has a reputation for casting a more diverse mélange of models. This time, there were three Canadians in the mix: Coco Rocha, Alana Zimmer and Ève Salvail (who last walked for Gaultier 15 years ago).

The Statement

The Gaultier Black Swan came to life through fantastic feather accents - on collars, décolleté, poking out beneath a hoop skirt and, not to be forgotten, a men's dress hemmed in a plush skirt of plumage (the designer also does couture men's wear). A traditional Fair Isle ski sweater was interpreted entirely using close-up, one sleeve adorned in feathers actually revealed itself to be shaped into a rooster. With characteristic wit, he conceived a men's down jacket where the feathers where visible under a layer of black tulle. But he also made silk jersey drape, sequins drip, velvet liquefy and fox fur envelop; it was a non-stop feast of rich textures and complex applications. Shoe boots riffed on ballet slippers.

The Effect

As is evident in the museum exhibition, this show reinforced Gaultier's painstaking and emotionally driven approach to creating clothes that provoke and seduce in equal measure. There was an ominous moody message at work, yet the silhouettes were familiar nods to his canon, which includes his stint designing for Hermès (note the few equestrian-inspired looks). Whether ballet-related or not, there was a clear Russian influence.

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The Takeaway

Gaultier loves theatricality, and couture offers him an opportunity to stimulate his senses and ours. His creations are not for the everyday, but they have an ooh la la effect. They dazzle and wow.

Amy Verner live from Couture Fashion Week in Paris

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